The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

Updated: Jul 24, 2020


I love Robert Harris, not least because of his piercing Twitter observations on the ineptitude of the current government, despite looking like the most entrenched Tory. I love his books, too. He has cornered the market in the intelligent thriller, and I always come away from one of his novels feeling as though I have learned loads at a very deep level.

The Second Sleep is different, though. Rather than a meticulously accurate past, Harris writes of an imagined future where history has been reset.

I read the novel on Kindle so I couldn't take any sneaky peeks at endings, and nor could I be swamped by blurbs. I had thought in the first few pages I knew what I was dealing with - a fairly conventional medieval murder mystery. So the revelation when it came was a huge and satisfying shock to me.

In this new history, the church has a stranglehold on life and human belief, science is a sin and technological advancement has been reduced to fragments of plastic and glass.

It is an extremely thought provoking read.

Some aspects of the novel has lingered on for me, including the notion of the second sleep of the title. I had never heard of this concept before and resolved to do some research. I discovered that in pre industrial society, adult sleep was typically broken into two distinct phases, with a period of wakefulness in between. This time of full wakening lasted for approximately an hour and could be spent in all types of ways, writing poetry or praying, visiting neighbours, or if one was so inclined engaging in fornication or burglary.


More disturbing, though was the fact that we as readers are as ignorant as the characters of how the apocalypse came to happen in 2025, but one suggestion is that the world's demise is due to the effects of an antibiotic resistant pandemic. With hindsight, I might have chosen not to read The Second Sleep in Covid 19 lock down.


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